It is during our early 30s and 40s that most people begin to lose a small amount of hearing. The loss increases the older we get and, by the time we get to 80, the majority of people have significant hearing loss.
The charity Action on Hearing Loss estimate that over 11 million people in the UK have some form of hearing loss, or one in six of the population. By 2035, it is estimated that there will be 15.6 million people with hearing loss in the UK – that’s one in five. More than 900,000 people in the UK are severely or profoundly deaf.
So what exactly causes age-related hearing loss?
Our hearing deteriorates as the sensitive tiny hair cells inside our cochlea slowly become damaged. Once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot be restored. It is common that, as our hearing starts to deteriorate with age, we find it difficult to hear high-frequency sounds, for example when children or women are speaking. As our hearing becomes worse, people can find it difficult to hear consonants being spoken. They also find understanding speech when background noise is present difficult.
1) Exposure to loud noise is a major factor
It’s not just age that can lead to a deterioration of our hearing. Repeated exposure to loud noise over time such as experienced in heavy industries or a sudden loud bang can also lead to permanent damage of our hearing.
This condition is known as ‘noise-induced hearing loss’. Noise-induced hearing loss or NIHL also occurs when the sensitive hair cells in the cochlea become damaged.
As the NHS warns, individuals who are at particular risk from developing noise-induced hearing loss are:
2) Working with noisy equipment/machinery pauses risks
“Noise at work can cause hearing damage that is permanent and disabling.”
As people who work with noisy equipment, such as compressed-air hammers and pneumatic drills, are putting their hearing at risk, the HSE advises health and safety managers on building sites or in factories to exchange noisy equipment for quieter machines.
3) Entertainment noise and hearing loss
The NHS warns that people who work in loud environments such as entertainers and night club/concert venue personnel are also at risk of developing noise-induced hearing loss.
4) People who regularly listen to loud music through headphones or in their cars
Hearing loss can also be caused by people who regularly listen to music at high levels through headphones, cautions the NHS. This is true also for people who play very loud music in their cars.
5) Treating hearing loss
The method in which hearing loss is treated is dependent on the underlying cause of the condition. If the hearing loss involves sound being unable to pass into the inner ear, it is typically treated by ear drops to remove excessive wax from the ear.
Hearing loss can also be caused by a bacterial infection. In this case, antibiotics are usually prescribed to the sufferer. In severe cases, surgery can be performed to drain the fluid.
In cases when hearing loss is severe, hearing aids are provided to help people hear more clearly. According to the NHS, approximately 1.4 million people regularly use hearing aids in the UK, and many more would benefit from them although not everybody can wear them.
The microphone in a hearing aid picks up sound which is then made louder by an amplifier. Internal components in the device also help distinguish background noise, such as traffic, and foreground noise, such as speech.
Of course the age-old saying ‘prevention is better than cure’ can be applied to certain causes of hearing loss, such as noise-induced hearing loss.
The HSE in the UK offers comprehensive guidance on controlling noise in work-based situations.
In order to determine whether a working environment is exposing employees to potential hearing damage, health and safety managers will need to carry out regular noise assessments which may involve measuring noise levels and individual exposure over a period of time.
Noise monitoring equipment such as noise meters, sound level meters and personal noise dosemeters, enables such assessments to be carried out accurately. Their reporting and analysis software gives employers the opportunity to prove they are monitoring noise in accordance with the law.
Why not download a FREE copy of our Employers Guide to Controlling Workplace Noise?
For further articles on workplace noise measurement and industry best practice, we recommend that you consult our blog.
- What is a noise survey?
- Managing the risk with a noise assessment
- Noise is a nuisance and can affect your health